Surging Cal to host high-riding Colorado

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The Cal women’s basketball team weathered one storm after another, but a threatening low-pressure system is due in town.

The No. 7 Bears play host Friday night at 8 p.m. to No. 20 Colorado in Haas Pavilion. It will be their fifth match against a ranked opponent in six games.

Cal (15-2, 5-1) is coming off a fantastic few weeks of basketball, which all began with a win in the thin Boulder air. In only their second conference game on Jan. 6, the Bears were seeking to portray themselves as legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 title.

Although it was a well-fought game, in which the score was tied nine times, the visiting Cal squad managed to hold off the aggressive Buffaloes, 53-49.

Though the Bears lost the following contest against the Cardinal, they followed it with three consecutive wins against Stanford, USC and No. 19 UCLA.

“Our main focus was to take the season one game at a time,” guard Afure Jemerigbe said. “We just did what we do best and played Cal basketball.”

Colorado is similarly on a hot streak. Since losing to Cal in early January, the Buffaloes (15-2, 4-2) have notched four consecutive victories in dominant fashion.

For the upcoming game, it will be crucial for the Bears to shut down dynamic guard Chucky Jeffery, who capped off her last game against Arizona by becoming the first player in team history with 1,400 points, 800 rebounds and 400 assists.

On the season, she’s averaging 13.5 points, shooting a stellar 45.1 percent from the field. She’s also giving the Buffaloes an additional 8.4 rebounds per game. In the Jan. 6 game, Jeffery nearly managed to erase Cal’s eight-point lead with only half a minute left.

Cal responded with a solid defensive effort from Layshia Clarendon. The senior captain forced Jeffery into a turnover and prevented a three-point shot to possibly tie up the game.

“We know Chucky is really good, and we need to contain her,” Jemerigbe said. “We can’t have her getting too comfortable. If we cover our defense, then our offense will come.”

The Bears will also need to start hitting their shots down the stretch, especially from the free throw line. Cal’s field goal percentage has consistently dropped from the first to the second half. Since the beginning of conference play, the Bears’ field goal percentage was 10.1 percent worse in the second half than the first.

Free throws are even more troubling, as the Bears shot 42.3 percent from the charity stripe in Colorado. In the final five minutes, when the Bears should have earned an eight-point win, four separate players missed nine free throws.

While Cal’s rebounding saved the game, there are no guarantees that it will be the same this time.

As important as those two aspects are to a Bears victory though, the game’s focus will return to their bigs and their rebounding.

Forwards Gennifer Brandon and Talia Caldwell only notched four points total in the Colorado game, despite averaging 21 points on the season among the two.

“Talia (Caldwell) and Brandon are crazy rebounders and posts,” Jemerigbe said. “A lot of our points are coming from the paint, and our team needs to realize and take advantage of that.”

Vincent Tzeng covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]

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